William Leighton Wheeler, Sr.
Charlotte - William Leighton Wheeler, Sr. of Charlotte, VT died peacefully with his family at his side on Thursday, March 21, 2019. He was 86 years old.
Known to all as Bill, he was born on April 24, 1932 at Middleport, NY to the late Albert Leighton and Florence Watson Kennedy Wheeler. They lived in one of the original houses on the Erie Canal.
In 1952 he graduated from Morrisville State College at Morrisville, NY with an Associate in Science degree, where he earned varsity letters in football and basketball.
From 1952-56 he was a U.S. Coast Guard hospital corpsman 2nd class, part of the law enforcement and air sea rescue patrol in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, weather and iceberg patrol north of the Arctic Circle, and was an operating room assistant. He served aboard the Coast Guard's famous tall ship Eagle, a square-rigged sailing ship.
On June 30, 1956 he married Patricia Van Mater and moved to Burlington, Vermont, where he graduated from the University of Vermont with a Bachelors degree. While at UVM he was the Director of Sports Publicity, and was a play-by-play radio announcer for basketball and football. He also wrote the Sports column for The Vermont Cynic. This experience affirmed his love of writing, public speaking and broadcasting—skills that propelled him through a career of advertising and later teaching at UVM and Champlain College.
From 1961-63, he was a Product Information Specialist in the Marketing department at General Electric. The secretaries in the marketing department all wore black the day he left to start his own business.
In 1963, Bill founded Wheeler, Wood & MacLeod, the third advertising agency in Vermont. A highlight of his career was his campaign, Vermont, The Beckoning Country, considered one of the most successful state advertising programs in the country—it is still quoted in describing the state.
His advertising creativity and expertise served local and national clients in the U.S. and Canada. His creative work has been recognized through countless regional, national and international awards, including a best of show Pegasus V award for his work on the Tri-State Mega Bucks campaign. Wheeler, Wood and MacLeod became Worthley & Wheeler Advertising and finally William L. Wheeler and Associates.
In 2000, Bill became an Adjunct Professor of Advertising at Champlain College, where he continued teaching for thirteen years— his idea of retirement. He received the first-ever Francine Page Excellence in Teaching Award in 2012, and he was recognized all over campus in his signature cowboy hat.
His family and friends always enjoyed his talent for making people laugh, and they marveled at his ability to recall stories and tell jokes appropriate to the occasion. He told stories well and often. Many could readily identify his deep, warm voice when heard on radio or television commercials. His voice was also recognized for decades as a horse show announcer.
Bill devoted his communication skills to countless non-profit organizations, including the United Way of Chittenden County. During his children's growing up years, Bill was active in the Charlotte Pony Club, and served as a BAHA hockey coach. A charter member of the Charlotte Planning Commission, he co-authored the first Charlotte Town Plan and was also a founding member and president of The Vermont Quarter Horse Association.
Bill was the quintessential Vermont cowboy, who had a life-long love of horses. In addition, he enjoyed building toys for his grandchildren, and following the New York Yankees and UVM basketball. A 62-year member of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Bill served three terms on the Vestry and was also Senior Warden.
His greatest love, however, was his family: Pat, his beloved wife of 62 years, who was also his business partner and best friend; daughter Lisa and her husband Rob Wilkes of Charlotte, VT; Rob's children and grandchildren; daughter Cynnie, her husband Eric Thunem, and their sons Ned and Pete of New Canaan, CT; daughter Trish Ellsworth and her children Eliza and Harry of Tewksbury, NJ; and son Bill Jr., his wife Ronna, and sons William III and River of Richmond, VT. He is also survived by his sister and brother-in-law, Sally and Peter Whitney of Tucson, AZ, and many nieces, nephews, grand nieces, and grand nephews. He was predeceased by his son-in-law Will Ellsworth.
A Memorial Service celebrating Bill's life is to be held on Friday, March 29, 2019, 11:00 AM, at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, 2 Cherry Street, Burlington, VT. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made in Bill's name to St. Paul's Cathedral or to High Horses Therapeutic Riding Program, P.O. Box 278, Sharon, VT 05065, highhorses.org.
To send flowers to William's family, please visit our floral section.